Rare Synth Showcase Part 10: Starkey Hearing Science Laboratory

What was meant to be a medical tool became a musical curio
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Housed within an unassuming 30,000-square-foot building just outside Philadelphia is a massive collection of historically significant music gear. Under 25-foot ceilings, an extraordinary stockpile of vintage synthesizers sits alongside other keyboards, amplifiers, stompboxes, and recording equipment from years gone by. The climate-controlled building and all its contents belong to the Electronic Music Education and Preservation Project. EMEAPP is a non-profit organization devoted to collecting and preserving outstanding parcels of rock ’n’ roll and electronic music history for future generations.


Fig. 10

Fig. 10

From the early 1970s until the mid-1980s, audiologists used this instrument to perform sophisticated hearing tests and experiments. It wasn’t intended for making music, but that didn’t stop experimental musicians from exploiting the HSL’s potential as a synthesizer. It has three sine-wave generators, one square-and-triangle-wave generator, pink and white noise, three resonant lowpass/highpass/bandpass filters, and mic and line inputs for processing external audio (see Fig. 10). It also has a frequency counter, a gate sequencer, distortion, a probability circuit, various utility functions, and audio outputs that include one labeled Bone Vibrator, but no inputs for external keyboards. Users connect circuits using patch cords with mini banana plugs and control pitch and other parameters by turning knobs and flipping switches. Like most medical devices, the HSL was built to last.